“The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order.”
The challenges that arise from change are common, and change happens often. Every time we turn around, it seems that the familiar has become un-familiar. Coping is both daunting and exhausting. Many people feel pressured to keep up.
Alvin Toffler, in the early 1970’s, suggested that we can all cope with huge amounts of change, pressure, complexity and confusion, as long as we can access a few remaining deep structures, the defensive routines, pleasures or places that act as a bulwark against the flow of daily life.
“Individuals need life structure. A life lacking in comprehensible structure is an aimless wreck. The absence of structure breeds breakdown. Structure provides the relatively fixed points of reference we need.”
Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave
He called these deep structures our personal Stability Zones. And argued that they might provide much-needed escape routes allowing our mind and body to paddle in the backwaters a while, providing an opportunity for us to draw breath and re-energise.
Toffler first presented the concept of Stability Zones in his hugely successful 1971 book, Future Shock. Although the theory was never accepted academically much of it still seems to hold true today.
Toffler’s concept is fairly simple. Stability Zones are places or things that make us feel safe, relaxed, and secure. They are protection or defense against an invasive or threatening outside world. Your Stability Zones, are where you feel safe. It’s something that doesn’t change.
Toffler argued that Stability Zones need not be limited to specific physical places; the effect could be replicated through proximity to objects or people for example; or even conceptually, through entering your ‘common ground’ of ideas, of faith or political ideology, or key texts, such as poetry or a favourite book.
Nor are the zones limited by scale, they need not be – though might be – portable; they could be entered into, like a room or a landscape; or accessed only by certain senses, sounds (a favourite piece of music), smell, touch or taste… Proust’s ‘madeleine moment’.
Stability Zones could be an effective way of managing stress because stability, certainty and familiarity all play a neutralising effect when we are faced with change.
In choosing whether to identify a place, person, object or idea as one of your Stability Zones, it may be useful to ask:
- How stable are they? You can rate the options on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 is low and 5 is high). Remember to think in terms of comfort, dependability and constancy.
- Can they be influenced by you? To what extent are the zones under your control?
- Do you need to spend time nurturing them? If you don’t have the time or desire to invest in these zones reconsider them, or you might find that, over time, they aren’t as comforting and constant as you once thought and have become another source of stress.
- Will they remain steady over time?
Of course the reality is that change happens constantly from micro to macro and back. Ultimately, a Stability Zone can only be a pausing point, a hypothetical ‘finger in the dyke’. Zones can only ever ease the impact of, and enhance your ability to cope with the effects of, change.
I wonder, is the Museum of Thin Objects providing something of the deep structure I need to cope?